- PHOTO BY STEVE E. MILLER
- QUADRUPLE THE PLEASURE: At Paso Underground one can sample wines from (left to right) Turtle Rock Vineyards with Claudia and Don Burns (Don is not pictured), Clos Soléne (Guillaume and Soléne Fabre not pictured), Aaron Wines with Aaron Jackson, and Ed Sauret of Edmond August Wines.
Not so long ago, Paso Roblans headed downtown to buy car parts whenever the old ride broke down. In a prime spot overlooking Paso’s Downtown Park, there was a building named Paso Underground that once housed a popular auto parts store. According to the new owners, the garage (the story reminded me of Napa Auto Parts) has been redesigned and now it’s attracting wine aficionados.
They kept the name but now Paso Underground features wine tasting from four unique, artisan wine companies, brands that make miniscule amounts of very special, handcrafted wines. With such a cool name, these savvy artists have created a niche that’s sure to attract people thirsting for an extraordinary wine tasting experience.
An e-mail from vintner Edmond “Ed” August Sauret prompted me to check out his first tasting room for his brand, Edmond August. Sauret and I met in the late ‘90s when he had a wonderful wine shop and deli in Paso that I visited whenever I was in town. Although I’ve known about his solid wines and have recommended them, this was the first I had heard of the new tasting room so I visited soon afterward. That’s when I first heard about Paso Underground and asked Sauret how they came up with the name.
“The ‘garage’ thing was already used by the Garagiste (Festival) people, as I tell folks. We wanted to convey a happening under the radar kind of vibe. Even though the name doesn’t mention wine, it’s a cool name for a building that used to be part of an auto parts store,” he explained. The building is now owned by winemaker Stephan Asseo, who owns L’Aventure Winery in Paso Robles.
The new Paso Underground isn’t easily spotted if you’re driving past the building but if you love artisan wines like I do, you’ll be sure to find this new tasting room. Not immediately obvious, there’s a boutique shop in the front section named “And Be,” owned by Andrea Dewit and Beatrice Asseo (wife of Stephan Asseo). Walk through the trendy, exclusive shop of home décor and clothing to the back room and you’ll find the Paso Underground winemakers offering their very limited wines for a nominal fee. You can also buy your favorite bottles, which earns you free tasting once you’ve purchased a minimum; that price varies among each brand. The tasting fee is $10 per person for tasting at each winemaker’s table.
My husband Dan and I typically share one glass to taste through multiple wines, which is a good idea since three of the brands are currently offering six wines to taste. That amount will surely change throughout the year since they make small amounts of each wine, and they are of such fine quality they’re sure to sell out fast.
The tasting room is quite cozy and friendly with a chic industrial décor. If the boutique store is closed you can also enter the tasting room from 12th Street and Railroad Avenue via a gate leading through their patio, where guests can sit down to enjoy their wine tastings. Of course it’s a much better experience to stand at each tasting table and talk to the winemaker as you taste through his lineup of wines. Here are some of the specifics I learned while tasting Sauret’s wines.
“We buy the best fruit we can find and let it do the heavy lifting,” Sauret quipped, which is also noted on his tasting pages. “We strive for wines that are clean, fruit-driven, intensely flavored, and the highest quality that’s faithful to the varietal character.” This proficient vintner can boast nearly four decades working with Paso Robles grown wines. He describes his winemaker Jacob Toft as an up-and-comer whose eponymous label always sells out upon release. “It’s our goal to make wines from low-yielding, carefully-farmed vineyards in Paso’s westside.”
I can assure you that Sauret’s quality standards are the strictly upheld preference of each of these winemakers at Paso Underground, all of whom produce wines from Paso Robles’ most reputable vineyards. Besides Edmond August, the artisan brands include Aaron, Clos Selene, and Turtle Rock. Each winemaker produces different varieties and blends, but most of them are Rhone varieties in whites, reds, and blends.
Only open Thursday through Sunday, their hours are 1 to 5 p.m. on Thursday and Sunday, and 1 to 7 p.m. on Friday and Saturday. They usually open on Mondays during some holiday weekends. Each winemaker is available by appointment if you call in advance. Of course, now that harvest is in full swing, the winemakers won’t often be found there at the same time pouring their wines. But you just might meet the winemaker’s significant other taking their place in the tasting room. You can stay informed about who’s there on Facebook, or visit their webpage PasoUnderground.com. There are links to each winery’s personal webpage where you can learn details about their philosophy and discover their full line of wines.
I honestly think that these gentlemen at Paso Underground are so innovative in this project that many other artisan wine producers are sure to follow their lead. A collaborative tasting room makes it easy to find the exclusive brands that cannot afford to buy their way onto wine country trail maps. Paso Underground may be your only opportunity to taste, let alone buy, these exclusive wines. Watch for columns that focus on each of these deserving winemakers in future columns.
Contact Cuisine columnist Kathy Marcks Hardesty at firstname.lastname@example.org.